Bugs, Bites and Sunburns
By Tod Schimelpfenig, WMI Curriculum director
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18,
When we enjoy the serenity and beauty of the wild outdoors we
also experience insects and solar radiation, bugs and sun. Sun
exposure causes sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging. Mosquitoes
are annoying and transmit diseases like the West Nile Virus. As
summer approaches, let’s briefly review how we defend against
bugs and sun with repellents, sunscreen and clothing.
Repellents create a vapor shield that confuses the insect. They
swarm, but landing and biting is difficult. DEET-based repellents
remain the standard. DEET has been used extensively for 40 years
and is deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. If
you’re skeptical, or if your bugs are merely annoying and
not overwhelming, there are alternatives to DEET. A recent study
demonstrating DEET’s effectiveness also noted that lemon
eucalyptus protected for 120 minutes, the best of the non-DEET
repellents. Citronella-based repellents protected for 20 minutes
or less, and Avon Skin-So-Soft for 9 minutes. In comparison, 23.8%
DEET protected for 301 minutes. You might also note a recent comment
by bear expert Steven Herrero that citronella can attract bears.
If you camp with children, it’s suggested by the American
Academy of Pediatrics that you choose repellents with less than
10% DEET, and use them sparingly. Keep the repellent off children’s
hands to reduce the chance for the repellent getting in their
eyes and mouths.
Read the label carefully. You only need repellent on exposed
skin or on clothing. Heavy application and saturation are unnecessary.
Some insect repellent products also contain a sunscreen or skin
lotion. Be careful. If you use it as a sunscreen you might be
applying more repellent than you need, or want.
Sunscreens work by absorbing or reflecting ultraviolet radiation.
Acute sun damage is mainly caused by UVB radiation, and chronic
damage by UVA. State-of-the-art sunscreens, including Avobenzone,
Oxybenzone, Titanium Dioxide, Octyl Methoxycinnamate, and Octyl
Salicylate, block, to varying degrees, both UVB and UVA. Zinc
and titanium dioxide provide the broadest spectrum protection
but for years were messy and unsightly. Newer “micronized”
zinc preparations are transparent and comfortable to wear. Z-COTE®
transparent zinc oxide is the only ingredient that covers virtually
the entire UVR spectrum. Unlike many active sunscreen ingredients,
zinc oxide also has the advantage of being non-allergenic.
Sunscreens need to be put on early, often and completely. We
often wait too long, don’t put on enough, and miss spots
like the top of the ears, the temples and the back of the neck.
We need to replace sunscreen washed off by sweat and swimming.
I know NOLS instructors who put sunscreen on at the start of every
day and are diligent about re-applying it during the day…good
Clothing provides a physical barrier to both sun and bugs. I
was recently looking over the equipment list from my Wind River
Wilderness course in 1971. Rock pitons and a piton hammer are
on the list, along with boxer shorts to keep our wool pants from
chafing, two wool sweaters that would be sewn into a double-length
sweater, and a wide brimmed hat and long-sleeve cotton shirt.
Those double sweaters were stylish, but I appreciate the light,
warm and quick-drying modern fabrics, and modern nuts and cam
devices. But where baseball hats and short or sleeveless shirts
are in style, I still choose to use a wide brimmed hat to keep
the sun from my face, and long cotton sleeves, or my nylon windshirt,
to keep the sun, bugs and bug repellent, from my arms.